Fidel Castro's daughter brings tales of old and new Havana to Westminster

Jon Kelvey
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times

Alina Fernández still remembers the day, in 1953, when Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck disappeared from her family television in Cuba, replaced instead by images of colorful, chanting people, and a charismatic, bearded man, who would speak for hours at a time.

The American cartoons never came back, but that bearded man one day showed up in her living room, filling it with “cigar smoke, a smelly, bluish cloud,” and gave Fernández a doll disguised as himself. After that, Fidel Castro became a frequent visitor to Fernández and her mother.

“He would jump from the TV screen to the living room, just like that,” she told a crowd gathered at McDaniel College on Thursday evening, Oct. 11. “With his presence, he made my mother joyful. Only grandma called him ‘the devil,’ so I was totally confused.”

It was only later that Fernández learned the truth, that Castro was her father, and not who she then learned was her step-father, Orlando Fernández, who fled the country along with her sister not long after Castro took power.

Fernández told the story of her family, the Cuban revolution and, ultimately, her rebuke and flight from her dictator father in vivid detail to an audience of McDaniel students and community members.

It was part of a joint presentation between McDaniel’s Student Diversity and Inclusion Office and the Hispano-Latino Alliance, according to the latter’s president and McDaniel senior Yessica Rodriguez.

“It was part of Spanish heritage month. This was our last event of the month and we wanted this huge event,” Rodriguez said. “Who doesn’t want to come see Fidel Castro’s daughter? I’m glad that she came.”

Fernández recounted her childhood in revolutionary Cuba, and the good and the bad of those times. Free education and health care, the toppling of authoritarian leader Fulgencio Batista’s government among the good. Food shortages, the revocation of travel visas and virtually total control over the lives of the Cuban people among the bad. Castro’s partner in the revolution, Che Guevara, Fernández said, is not well-regarded in Cuba because of his overseeing of summary executions in the wake of the revolutionaries’ victory.

Mickey Mouse was no longer televised, but the executions were. Fernández remembers seeing the image of a man, “his hands were tied, his white shirt was covered with spots,” she said. “It took me 30 years to realize we had witnessed an execution on TV.”

Owen Long, a McDaniel senior and Spanish minor from Hanover, Pennsylvania, said he really enjoyed Fernández’s balanced portrayal of Cuba.

“I think it was really bold of her to come out and speak like this and that’s what we need, to hear the Cuban story,” he said. “You don’t get to hear a firsthand account very often.”

In her adolescence, Fernández became critical of her father’s government, and in 1994, disguised as a Spanish tourist, she fled Cuba. She told the crowd she has been encouraged by some of the changes in more recent years.

“You can breathe a little bit more, you can survive a little better,” Fernández said. “For example they are talking now about allowing internet, which doesn’t exist in Cuba.”

It was good to hear of times changing in Cuba for McDaniel junior Daniella Yacobucci Lapaitis, whose native Venezuela has been undergoing its own struggles with a socialist dictatorship for most of her life.

“There are a lot of people in this country that think, socialism is great, because socialism equals equality. But there is so much more around it and so much more how it’s imagined and how it’s worked in different countries,” she said. “Even in Venezuela there have been some good things to it, it’s just that, at least in my opinion, the bad things outweigh the good things.”

Hearing Fernández speak gave Yacobucci Lapaitis hope that change is possible.

“That’s the nature of things,” she said. “It might feel like it’s forever for some people, but there needs to be a change.”

As for the United States, Fernández was initially unsure what to say when asked about her thoughts on the contemporary political climate, but she returned to that question at the end to offer some advice to young people.

“Try to stay objective, listen to both parties. If you decide based on what you see on TV or read, you are going to be misled, because people have lost respect for impartiality,” she said. “You are young, you are getting educated, you need to be free. The first thing that needs to be free is your mind. That’s the only solution I see.”


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